Chan: The Biggest Myth in the Church Today on Evangelism

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An honest conversation with Francis Chan about the church's problems with evangelism and how to overcome them.

Interview by Brian Orme

We recently caught up with Francis Chan to ask him about his current focus on evangelism and what he’s doing to spread the Gospel in his community.

Below is a longer conversation about evanglism, mission and ministry. Make sure to check out the exclusive print feature in our November/December Evangelism issue of Outreach Magazine!

You’ve been working in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco—going door-to-door in a low-income area. At this point, are you connected with a “home” church?

There is a church associated with the rescue mission. It’s a small church. I’m currently a part of this gathering. We get together Sunday afternoons, and I consider it a church.

We worship, for a few minutes, I teach, very briefly, but then we go out and scatter and minister to people for a couple of hours, then we come back and share stories and worship again and call it a day. So that really is my church body there, and we’re trying to plant a bunch of churches like that—keeping it very missional from the start. 

You mentioned it’s kind of a church, but not completely. Do you think there’s a point where you want to make this gathering an official church?  

Don’t Miss

Right now, we have people from different churches visiting. We’re trying to figure out how to make this work. We want people to be able to stay at their local churches, and if you want to do ministry with us, join us on a Sunday afternoon and minister alongside of us. So it’s a little confusing to me, honestly.

On Sunday mornings, we do have a gathering here; we do have a church. I’m not real regular there because I’m speaking in different places. I guess I would call it my home church, but I’m not really there, and yet Sunday afternoons, I can be consistent. And because I teach that same group of people every week, it sure feels like my church, even though some of them come from other places.

So I don’t even know what the next transition is. I know we want to plant other churches. We want the people [who] are getting saved to be plugged in and part of a functioning body, but we want it to look like the Sunday afternoon body where we minister, but we also worship and teach. 

It sounds like you’re embracing less structure and keeping it more fluid—would that be accurate to say?

Yeah, this is the closest I’ve felt to a group of people. We’re family. I’d give them the shirt off my back. I care about them like my own children, and we care about each.

And we’re also very missional. That’s why I love them. It’s a partnership. We’re going out, getting the Word out, getting the Gospel out, showing grace and love and the Gospel to a community.

That’s what I want to be priority, so whether or not we stay in the room for an hour and a half, and have a 40-minute sermon and 30 minutes of singing—to me, I don’t see that as priority in Scripture. I don’t see it as wrong, but the priority seems to be the mission and people going out and making disciples and loving one another like a body should and really caring for each other in that way.

So those are the things I do see happening. We don’t have a set building or offering or some of those other things, but to me, I’m trying to start with what I see as priority in Scripture. 

You’re going door-to-door in your ministry context. Many would call this “old-school evangelism.” What was your thinking in moving in this direction for outreach in your community?  

Everything’s about context. Wherever you are, you need to figure out how to get into the lives of the unbelievers.

Francis Chan Francis Chan is an author and church leader, formerly the pastor of Cornerstorne Church in Simi Valley, California. Chan has authored two books, Crazy Love & Forgotten God. He is also the founder of Eternity Bible College and sits on the board of directors of Children's Hunger Fund and World Impact. Francis lives in California with his wife, Lisa, and their four children.

More from Francis Chan or visit Francis at http://francischan.org/

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  • Mar Komus

    Excellent. Even better if this church isn’t organized as a nonprofit corporation.

  • Karl Ingersoll

    Good for you Francis Chan!

  • kk

    This is wonderful and touching me.The heartbeat of God.This is very true of so many Christians and our leaders today,people do not want to preach the gospel.We say Jesus has done a lot for us but when He says we go and preach to others,we say we are not preachers-GOD help me to really know,of a truth ,what you’ve done for me which you want to do in others.

  • Ticiany Freischlad

    People are socially awkward and do not preach the Gospel because of homeschooling? What the heck?

    I think Francis Chan should do a better research, on a personal level

    Home schooling is definitely not the reason why people are not preaching the Gospel.

    You send your children going into difficult transitions in their lives to the middle of a lot of pressure, discouragement, drugs, lack of respect for authority, free sex, demands to belong, and that around 5 to 8 hours of their day and expect them to be a witness? That is cruel.

    Lack of discipleship is the matter.

    I met a bunch of home schooled children and they were the most loving and serving people I´ve met on my life!

    And I’ve been to many places, and met “big” people.

    I saw his videos, and think what he are doing is awesome. But please, blaming home schooled for “socially awkward” people and for the Gospel not being preached is a very ignorant mistake.

    That is a fruit of destroyed homes, and not of good home schooling. And it is a lack of of real one to one loving and intense discipleship.

    Home schooling, when done right, is a very strong tool of discipleship and preparation of kids to become awesome people of God.

    Besides that, “socially awkward people” are not less worthy of love and in less need of help just because they are already going to a Church meeting.

    It is already a very unloving thing to label people, instead of looking at their unique circumstance and walking with them, helping them to find healing to grow in love.

    It is a very ignorant thing to blame a very powerful tool, if used right, as the cause of people not being salt and light.

    Home schooling is a blessing, not a curse.

    Now, if people use it well or not, that is another whole deal.

    The examples that I know are far away from producing gospel-passive and unloving people.

    • AMOS8

      Ticiany, thank you for your words. [Cool name, by the way.] It does seem that homeschooling is both subtly and overtly (see “Death to Homeschooling”) under attack. Yet, to be fair, perhaps FC did not overtly blame homeschooling. This is what he said:

      “I also think with Christian schools and homeschooling, we are keeping
      the younger generation away from unbelievers, having to interact with
      unbelievers.”

      There are a lot of myths about homeschooling … even within “Christian” circles. But it is more than ironic that FC’s next book is on discipleship. Homeschooling is very intense discipleship and equipping.

      Also, there is a threshold–that most, if not all of us have–of the level of darkness that we will allow our children to be subjected to. I appreciate people wanting their children to be light and salt, but is there not a time to withdraw them? [Another irony, God took Lot and his family out of Sodom, and FC lives in similarly dark city known for similar behavior.]

      Many leaders continue to falsely believe and teach that that Paul’s experience in Acts 17 was a great success and should be our model for reaching unbelievers. But if we read it more closely, we see that Paul deemed it a failure. He left abruptly after they requested to hear him more. He was to never return. So why do so many “missional” people continue to teach this as our model?

      I’m not saying it is wrong for anyone to have their kids in public schools, but we must ask, how bad must it get before you make a change (if you have the means)? There seems to be an assumption that homeschooled kids are socially awkward and do not share the gospel. I’m thrilled that you had a great experience with homeschoolers, yet not all homeschooled children are taught or trained well (just as in every population).

      • B

        The broader context was missed ladies by u both. He wasnt saying homeschool is bad intrinsically. What he is saying is that it typically isnt missional and is usually of internal focus. The kids are then left socially unequipped to deal with nonChristians. Ive seen it many times! So the objective is to figure out how we can make everything missional…. Thats the point.

        • AMOS8

          I’m not sure if I have ever heard of a woman named Amos, but who knows now a days.

          Perhaps, B, you lumped both of us (Ticiany and I) into the same notion. Also, I disagree with what you believe FC to be saying about HS … he may or may not be saying it has an “internal focus,” but it is not clear. He does seem to subtle assert that it is not good, or that an HS kid cannot evangelize or be around non-Christians. This myth is perplexing. It is one thing to be judgmental, it is another thing to be accurate in one’s judgment.

          And speaking of judgmental, you seem to, at a minimum, imply that Christian HS kids are “left socially unequipped to deal with nonChristians.” (Correct me if this is not what you are saying). This is a disturbing stereotyping of many people who you do not know. You refer to your experience as proof, well, have we not all been around Christian PS kids who were “socially unequipped to deal with nonChristians”? I was one of them! Why are so many down on homeschooling?

          You said, “So the objective is to figure out how we can make everything missional…. Thats the point.”

          That may or may not have been his point (or your point/desire), but it is not biblical! Sure, a lot has to do with how we define “missional.” We could put anything in there and THEN make it biblical, but the current, trendy, if not emergent/post-modern ideas behind missional are NOT biblical. “Missional” is, according to the practice of this group, is exceedingly deceptive and destructive.

          • Someonehastosay

            I agree that I don’t think FC is giving short shrift to homeschooling or Christian schools. My child is in her fourth year at a Christian school. It has the word “Christian” in its name, touts itself as evangelical, has chapel, teaches bible classes, prays before meals and says the Christian flag pledge, etc. all that. It has activities of different kinds like coat drives, can food drives, school supplies for public school kids drives, etc. the students graduate with an ability to articulate classic doctrines well enough to cause anyone to think the work done there is truly Christian.

            It is not. The school appeals to wealthy people (which we are not, and we drive cars with 250,000 miles each on them to afford the tuition), models “success” in as worldly a standard as any corporation, government or lost person would, does absolutely nothing to teach students that the one thing that matters in all of life at all cost to oneself is obedience to the real demands of the Bible, and produces thoroughly spoiled people who are convinced of their own righteousness. It is a problem that, in my discussions of it with my child’s teacher, they know exists but will not admit and will not alter their mission and focus to correct.

            So, when Chan observes that these movements are influencing people to withdraw from the lost population, he is right. He does not overstate the problem as if all the world will be lost because of these schools and home schools. Not at all has he said so. However, the trajectory of it is that there is no connection between these groups/schools/ways of educating and real mission obedience. So, we have to be extremely wise not to see these ways of educating as sacred when they are not producing sacred fruit, i.e., mission minded, obedient people, reaching the last/least/lost in the world at all cost to oneself.

            My wife and I are asking God, “If our prayers are genuine that we ask You to take our daughter and use her as Your missionary to whomever You will prepare and send her to in Jesus’ name, are we disobeying Your Word that we are IN the world even though we are not OF the world. ” And, we are seriously examining our motives. We want the academically better Christian school. But, at what cost to the mission of Christ through us? Do we really want the ways in which this Christian school is shaping people to shape her? Are we actually working against God’s mission by keeping her there? Do we trust God to shape her into the image of Jesus while living her student life in a public school?

      • Pastor James

        Every family needs to make the choice that is best for them and their kids. Period. If you feel called to homeschool or put your kids in private school you should do so without guilt or the need to justify yourself. Yet, as to a few specific issues where I am sympathetic to FC’s concern and your response….

        1. The point of the article is evangelism NOT discipleship. There are
        clear advantages to homeschooling and private school, one of which may
        be discipleship. There are also advantages to being in the public
        schools and one of them is that you are rubbing shoulders with
        non-believers and you are meeting them where they are at. FC was asked a
        specific question that pertained to evangelism and his answer is one
        the most church leaders and people engaged in the public schools would
        affirm. There is no need to be defensive, or to suggest that one option is better than the other. Every choice carries advantages and risks. Opportunity for evangelism is an advantage to being in the public schools.

        2. As a church leader, my kids are in public schools. As a result of those relationships we naturally form through the school, we have baptized teachers and parents. Those are relationships we never would have forged without being present at the school. I think to FC’s point… unless you have rubbing shoulders daily with lost people, you have no idea how isolated, insulated, and out of touch many in the church are with non-Christians. In my opinion, this is the concern that FC was trying to express.

        3. I’ve never used Acts 17 as a model, but I have used Jesus prayer in John 17 where He specifically prayed that the Father would NOT take them out of the world, but that He was sending them into the world.

        4. “how bad must it get…” I don’t know, but I don’t think taking all of the believers out of the public schools, and then complaining about the problem is the answer to making things better.

  • Cobus

    @facebook-1301685799:disqus I think you take his comment personally and miss what he tried to say. I did homeschooling and I do understand what he say. All my kids are lovely born again believers. I move them from homeschool to the local school in their final years. Reason, they did not have sinner friends, only the homeschool club. Today they appreciatte it and in fact all my kids won people to Jesus and is still doing so. Please do not throw the baby with the bath water out!

  • PastorMason

    There’s a lot of truth in here. Bottom line: The church needs to find ways to more consistently engage with the surrounding community outside the four walls of the church.

  • Pastor B

    Leaving his Church was also a prophetic statement and others have heard it; I came to respect Francis Chan so much after hearing about that. He could have stayed and milked a lifetime of preaching and book royalties from his Church but he didn’t do that – he made a choice for The Kingdom. This is how I try to live my life – we are a small Church where I mentor young people who live together and are training for ministry. We look to find social scenes in our area to become a part of so that we can share Jesus with people there. And btw he is right about socially awkward Church goers – the home schooled that I have met have often been the most socially awkward people I have ever met – while I applaud the parent for disengaging a system of secular indoctrination (public schools) I question the motive. There can be no greater was to discredit the Gospel than to non-verbally (or verbally) communicate to your child that you are more concerned with your child NOT smoking, drinking and etc than you are about the neighbor’s child getting saved from Hell. My experience has been that the best way to under-gird a person’s faith is to get them actively engaged in the big adventure of Kingdom growing. BTW- a friend of mine always used the billion Chinese as an excuse for not becoming born again – he said that it could not be true because of the Chinese that he felt empathy for… part of what has brought him around was the fact that there are more born again people in China than in the USA AND sitting through a True Love video based Bible study in his friend’s Church where he got to here from a Chinese Christian – pretty cool

    • wes73

      That is why we take our children soulwinning. To show them we care about the lost. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt
      good manners.” Do a study on that verse. Also your child could “fall in love” with someone that is not saved, and marry them. The Bible clearly states in
      2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with
      unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and
      what communion hath light with darkness?” And there is a better chance of that in a public school.

  • wes73

    We have homeschooled all our children. We have 13 and all of them that are old enough, which is 10, have gone soulwinning, and most of them have led a soul to Christ. I would never let my kids go to a public school. Too much bad influence. Children are too young to withstand that worldly teaching. 2 Cor. 5:17, come out from among them, and be years separate.

  • Roy

    By the comments made, it is evident that some nerves have
    been hit, but I think the heart of the message has been lost. FC hit the
    nail on the head, and the issue was NOT, “To home school or not to home
    school.”

    The main point, the way I see it, was where FC mentioned the
    core problem ……….

    “Bottom line: No one is really getting the Gospel out. The truth is it’s
    everyone’s job.

    If pastors were out sharing their faith, then they could say: “Follow me;
    I’ll make you a fisher of men. Watch how I do it.” There would be a sense of
    discipleship where people can come along.

    Instead, we give sermons about fishing and Power Points about fishing and
    books about fishing, but who’s actually out there fishing and taking someone
    along with them? That’s the problem. Pastors aren’t doing it, so then the sheep
    don’t have that type of example.”

    Folks, it is evident that we are mostly failing at following
    Jesus. Jesus said we would receive power
    for ONE reason, to be witnesses, yet stats reveal that over 90% of believers
    don’t share their faith in Jesus. We are
    not fishing for men. No wonder our
    country is where it is…….no salt, no light.

    No wonder our kids don’t share Jesus because they don’t see examples in
    our lives. No wonder that most of OUR
    kids will walk away from church after high school.

    Let’s wake up church, it’s not too late!

  • Charity

    I have to say..I myself am a little concerned by the education comments from Francis Chan. My husband is a pastor and a high school teacher at a local public school and my children have been homeschooled and are now attending our local Christian school. The reality is that the local Christian school is just as much of a mission field to unbelieving children as the public school and in many cases much worse. Our prayer for our boys every day is that they go forth and be a light to unsaved children at their Baptist school! I have worked in the school, counselled and walked along side many of the teens and I’ve left with a clearer understanding that children brought up in the church walk a dangerous line of self-deception and it is imperative that they are constantly challenged to examine their lives for true fruits of being a follower of Jesus Christ. I just believe that Chan is a little naive when it comes to this area. I’m willing to happily overlook it, though! :) Francis Chan’s ideas about ministry to the poor and unbelieving are spot on and he is right to warn us to keep a watch out that we are not becoming complacent in our churches and socially dysfunctional in our communities!

  • Allison

    What a narrow viewpoint to think that homeschooling keeps the younger generation from non-Christians…my homeschooled first-grader is in boy scouts and plays soccer, all with children of varying backgrounds and beliefs. But I will not have him, or his younger brother, being taught the values of whatever teacher he happens to get at the local school–or the values of whichever children he would spend 7 hours a day with at a young and impressionable age. I want my children to see evangelism MODELED, for that is often how we humans learn skills and abilities, and they see me do that as we go about our days…praying with a homeless person, for example, after we leave the post office. Jesus didn’t send his disciples out until they were ready. Why would I do any less with my own children? True, the article is about evangelism and not discipleship (as stated previously), but I believe either this careless remark or wrongly held opinion of FC’s will cause Francis Chan to lose credibility. With me, he has.

  • Steven Leapley

    “I also think with Christian schools and homeschooling, we are keeping the younger generation away from unbelievers, having to interact with unbelievers. I think overall, the church is going to get weaker and weaker in this area, and it’s not because they don’t love Jesus. It’s not because they don’t have a heart for the Lord. They just don’t know how to engage with people who don’t believe like they do.”

    I got to speak up just as Ticiany did… with regards to homeschooling…. Home schooling is not to keep my kids away from unbelievers…although Many do. Homeschooling is about my responsibility as a parent to train my children up…. My kids (13,10,9,5,2) can interact with unbelievers (and do on a regular basis) just as they do with their Christian friends.

    We KNOW how to engage unbelievers……. in fact, my kids take to heart St. Francis of Asisi…”preach the gospel, when necessary, use words!” My kids interactions with unbelievers strike up more conversations about why they act the way they do than most of their Christian friends… It comes down to being fluid… Like the Apostle Paul said…be all things to all people..

  • Dee

    Its disappointing to see a Christian leader such as Mr. Chan make such ignorant statements & partially blaming Christian families who are making the sacrifices to home educate their children as to a reason why the Gospel is not being shared.

    We homeschool, and we share the Word. Our presence in the community during school hours opens the door to people in the community about why we homeschool. We serve in different capacities after school hours (if we public schooled this time would be filled with homework) finding needs and filling them. All in the name of Jesus. All in the purpose of sharing the Gospel.

    We as parents are commanded by the LORD to educate our children, not drop them off in the government schools where their understanding of God can be confused by its Anti-God sentiment. (Deut 6:7)

    Maybe instead of attacking the practice of homeschooling, Mr. Chan should be giving advice on how we as families can enter into the community WITH our children and share the Gospel. This is a prime season to find people who desperately need to be ministered to with the love of the LORD. That, and someone should get Mr. Chan a copy of the movie IndoctriNation…

    • Someone has to say

      I hear you. I don’t think it is fair or accurate to see Chan’s comments as applying to your particular way of living. I think, on the face of his comments alone, it is clear that your circumstance is the exception to the general manner of how people lead their children within those schooling contexts. He is not talking about how you are doing it, Dee. I urge us to not over generalize beyond what this brother has said. Lets agree or disagree but without unjustifiably casting his comments in ways he did not intend them.

  • whitetotheharvest

    I think Brother Chan is doing the right thing. There is definitely a disconnect between thechurch and the world. This extends even to the born-again who are out of fellowship. I don’t think he has got there yet, but he is on the right path and will get there. We need some new paradigms for assembly, which are not inimical to the gospel.

    In some sense, it seems to me that current churches as now constituted have become the enemies of the gospel. They seem, rather, to be hiding places for believers who want to have nothing to do with evangelism. Outreaches are in some places (maybe many) little more than propaganda efforts to get people into their churches rather than as instruments of salvation to people on the outside.

    Chan is right about the problem being with pastors. Most pastors don’t know how to minister the gospel either in or outside the church building. They don’t have to, because their congregants are too absorbed in running church activities, drinking coffee, eating doughnuts and going to men’s breakfasts and women’s meetings. Pancakes, anyone?

  • Evangelist Larry Walters

    This is rather amazing…The entire article is about the biggest myths in the church today on evangelism and the main conversation here is on homeschooling? Seriously?

    When we live in a world that have Billions who have never heard about Yahshua (Jesus) and we are still into our “little world.” When will realize that it is not about me or us…instead it is about Him!

    We have been called and commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations. Yahshua knew we would be going. That is why the imperative command is to make disciples, not converts.

    He knew we would become comfortable where we are and this is why He allows for such extreme persecution…just like in the early church…so the people would go so they could make disciples…

    America was founded upon the premise that we would take the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard.

    Now we are too comfortable and live in houses which cripple our finances…drive cars that are disposable…eat fast food and thrive on entertainment…

    The enemy has done his homework well…make them comfortable and they will do almost nothing.

    To become a follower of Messiah Yahshua, means that we must take up our cross daily and follow Him…

    But this is simply my opinion. I have gone to 3 nations…India twice…and India houses 1/2 of all of the unreached peoples in the world. My prayer is to return to India to live and reach the unreached.

    What we need are senders. I know that you want to see the lost engaged with the Gospel or you would not be reading this article and posting. We are called to go…please send us!

    How to contact us:

    larwlt@yahoo.com

    419-566-1756

    In Simple Obedience…We Go!

    Evangelists Larry and Ana Walters

    Acts 26:16-18